Feast, Fast, and Flesh: Hunger and Conflict in New England and New France, 1637-1763
Cevasco, Carla Jane
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CitationCevasco, Carla Jane. 2017. Feast, Fast, and Flesh: Hunger and Conflict in New England and New France, 1637-1763. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation is a history of hunger in the borderlands between New England and New France from 1637, the end of the Pequot War, to 1763, the end of the Seven Years’ War. Trapped in cycles of conflict throughout the violent seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, English, French, and Native communities tried to solve the problem of hunger. The solutions they arrived at often greatly resembled each other, yet these very solutions drove these communities into more intercultural conflict. By participating in ritual feasts and fasts, arguing over the possibility of cannibalism in communion ceremonies, rejecting other cultures’ solutions to hunger, and expressing disgust at survival foods, English, French, and Native peoples made unique borderlands hunger cultures.
Acknowledging the material origins of violence in early America, historians have struggled to explain the persistence of intercultural conflict despite cross-cultural similarities between colonists and native peoples. Unlike many histories of food in early America, which have highlighted plenty, this dissertation places scarcity at the center of borderlands conflicts. While historians tend to focus on ways to explain change, this dissertation makes a continuity argument about cycles of hunger and conflict.
Using the methods and insights of a new interdisciplinary field, hunger studies, this dissertation brings together food studies, crisis studies, material culture, and the history of medicine. Reinterpreting sources that are not usually examined together—captivity narratives, sermons, devotional and medical texts, diplomatic and military sources, diaries, recipe books, and material culture from communion cups to rotting meat—the project traces the ways social cohesion unravels in the face of hunger.
“Feast, Fast, and Flesh” examines four different strategies that English, French, and Native communities used against hunger: feasting and fasting, communion, knowledge practices, and disgust. The dissertation progresses from strategies used in times of stability through the increasingly desperate strategies used in times of crisis. Chapter One, “Govern Well Your Appetites: Feasting and Fasting,” examines English, French, and Native feasting and fasting rituals, arguing that communities protected themselves from crisis by disciplining their bodies with communal eating and not-eating. Chapter Two, “This is My Body: Communion and Cannibalism,” analyzes communion rituals in English, French, and Native communities to conclude that these ceremonies had striking material and conceptual similarities. Despite these cross-cultural similarities, communion ceremonies were implicitly and explicitly violent ways to show community belonging. Chapter Three, “Arrows of Famine: Hunger Knowledges and Cultures,” demonstrates that, born into an English hunger culture that did not prepare them to suffer hunger, the majority of English colonists in New England failed to understand Indian approaches to scarcity, or to make new hunger cultures or knowledges in the borderlands. Chapter Four, “The Violence of My Appetite: Disgust and Sustenance,” explores accounts of disgust from English and French people eating among Indians to demonstrate that disgust tested, transgressed, and ultimately solidified cultural boundaries in colonial New England and New France.
In the borderlands between New England and New France, hunger was more than a fact of life; it was a historical actor.
This dissertation demonstrates that continuity, more than change, defined intercultural negotiations in the violent crucible of the borderlands.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41140236
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